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Behold the Power of Appreciations

Creatives use the term "constructive criticism," but is criticism the only way? Storyteller Jay O'Callahan champions the power of "appreciations."

Careers are developed based on new opportunities and feedback exchange. Traditionally, feedback is constructive and is exchanged to put a spotlight on your weaknesses. Of course, the greatest barrier to acting on constructive feedback is the offense we take along with it. Often times, our ego makes us defensive and marginalizes the potential benefits. Especially among the creative set that is especially passionate about their work, negative feedback doesn’t always help us.

It is worth considering other methods to improving the skills of others – and helping all people capitalize on their strengths. Last year in BehanceMag, we featured one of the greatest storytellers in the world, Jay O’Callahan. O’Callahan has been proclaimed byTime Magazine and others as a true master of storytelling. He travels the world with his stories and runs a series of storytelling workshops to help aspiring storytellers (and experienced masters) hone their craft.

Jay is also a pioneer of Appreciations, a technique to improve the skills of storytellers without any demoralizing consequences.

Here’s the concept behind appreciations: Having just shared a story (or, in other contexts, a presentation, idea, etc…), you would go around and ask people to comment on the elements they appreciate. After hearing the aspects of your story that people appreciate most, you are likely to emphasize those components more (and thus de-emphasize the other components that are not appreciated) in the future.

The power of “appreciation” can take many different forms. Another example is how the creative professional community uses the appreciation system in the Behance Network. Rather than have a ranking mechanism that encourages people to leave negative and positive rankings of creative projects, the team decided to implement an “appreciations” system. When someone likes the work by a particular professional in the network, they simply click the “appreciate” button. If they don’t like the work, they don’t do anything. Over time, some projects in a member’s portfolio become more appreciated and rise above the rest. This sends a very direct message to the member about what projects may require more thought or a better presentation.

O’Callahan explains, “It is strange that, in our culture, we are trained to look for weaknesses. When I work with people, they are often surprised when I point out the wonderful crucial details – the parts that are alive.” O’Callahan goes on to suggest that, “if our eyes are always looking for weakness, we begin to lose the intuition to notice the beauty.”

There are certainly benefits to direct constructive feedback. However, such an approach is not always the most effective way to help people improve. The power of appreciation is not only informative but also motivating and rewarding. At the very least, creative teams across industries should consider how they can adopt a system of appreciations to improve each person’s performance.

More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (1)
  • Parris

    This is such a powerful post. I think the reconditioning to simply “appreciate” art rather than critique it is what makes the Behance network so powerful. I am also amazed by how much a simple gesture of appreciation can inspire people. Great advice here 🙂

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